Mom interrogated Rodchenko some more, with Chuck relaying questions using knowledge he'd gained in his flashes. As soon as Sarah assured him they had the bunker secured and had called for extraction, Chuck checked his watch. It was late in Washington, but General Beckman had to be told what they'd found. He looked over at Morgan, who had been in Castle for over twenty-four hours. "You can go home if you want. I may be here a while."
Morgan shook his head. "I'm not leaving 'til you do."
Chuck really didn't want to be alone, so he didn't argue. He punched up the general's number. Her hair was down and she was wearing a bathrobe, but it didn't look like she'd been asleep. "Sorry to disturb you, General. I thought you should know Sarah and my mom rescued Rodchenko and his family."
"Family? Rescued? Explain."
"He was kidnapped and held against his will."
Morgan broke in to help. "His wife and two little girls were there too. Sarah and Mrs. B found them all locked in cages. They looked pretty bad."
She softened a little, but she was still impatient. "Who kidnapped them and why? What were they doing there?"
"Carlos Rodriguez and Hans Petrovich. They're in the Intersect under 'Project Locust'. They forced Rodchenko to genetically engineer a..." Chuck just could not say the word 'smut' in front of Beckman. Not after that kiss at the CIA Christmas party. "...fungus that attacks corn, using his family as leverage. They're planning to destroy every corn crop in the United States."
"And China too," Morgan blurted out.
"Dear God," Beckman gasped. "That would be an ecological and economic disaster to make the Irish Potato Famine look like a picnic. Tell me it's been stopped."
Chuck shook his head. "I'm sorry, General. Rodriguez and Petrovich had already left when Mom and Sarah got there. Rodchenko said they took some of the fungus with them. It reproduces, so they wouldn't need a lot. The nanobot facilitator might help us find them though. It's sort of radioactive."
"Sort of?" Beckman's volume went up and alarm tinged her voice, like when she heard Costa Gravas had nuclear weapons.
"They're microscopic robot drones. Smaller than fleas. Their power source is—"
"No, no. Nothing like that. That would make the whole project really expensive or get them caught if they stole it."
The general was not amused by how resourceful the terrorists had been in avoiding detection and now she was looking at Chuck like he had somehow endorsed their methods just by reporting on it.
He drew a deep breath and plowed on. "They're powered by miniaturized radioisotope thermoelectric generators using americium-241."
Both Morgan and Beckman stared at him like he was speaking gibberish. In honesty, Chuck would only understand about half of that without the Intersect.
He attempted to explain: "That's the same material used in smoke detectors. It would take 500 nanobots to have the same radiation as the average home smoke detector."
"And how many of these bots do they have?" Beckman asked.
Chuck cringed. "Project Locust called for about a billion."
"A billion? So not only are they going to destroy our food with a fungus, but they're going to kill us with radiation?"
He waved his hands in a negating fashion. "They may not have that many. Rodchenko says his sm—fungus is more virulent than they originally hoped for. He only saw two lead-lined suitcases to hold the nanobots."
"I'm never eating huitlacoche again," Morgan swore under his breath.
Chuck frowned and continued, "You'd have to touch 500 ears of infected corn just to get the same radiation as one smoke detector." He looked at Morgan. "You're not afraid of a smoke detector, right?"
Beckman looked like she was struggling to hold her impatience in check. "This is all very... enlightening, Mr. Bartowski, but how does this help us?"
"Before they let the bots go. All the americium-241 together in one place should be easy to track with a Geiger counter."
Beckman's frown relaxed. "Excellent. Did Rodchenko know where his captors were headed?"
"He didn't know, but if the Project Locust data in the Intersect is correct, you'd better lock down Iowa."
"I'll be calling the Iowa National Guard and Homeland Security immediately. Good work, team. Chuck, get some sleep. As soon as we get a location on Rodriguez and Petrovich, you're going after them."
"Wait. Me, General? Like, me personally?"
"Your country needs you, Chuck. The only other top-level agent available right now is Roan Montgomery and I don't think he can seduce a heterosexual male terrorist or blend in with farmers in Iowa."
Chuck had to agree with that. Seduction was out and putting Roan in plaid flannel might break some law of physics. "Sarah grew up in the midwest. She and my mom can do this."
"I assume Rodriguez and Petrovich will split up. I'll send Mary to China, but Sarah isn't cleared for solo."
"But she doesn't want to work with me." He hadn't meant it to sound like a pout, but it came out that way.
"Then you go alone."
Chuck was torn between feeling great because of the huge vote of confidence and feeling terrible because it was probably misplaced. Had Casey ever told her that he failed his Red Test? Did she know how much Shaw, Casey, and Sarah had held his hand and backed him up on his only other solo mission? Had she forgotten why she herself had snatched away the dream cover life in Rome? "I take that as a compliment, and I do appreciate it, but I think we both know I'm not so good by myself."
"Walker says she cares about your safety. Here's her chance to prove it. You were willing to sacrifice your desires for her. Let's see if she'll do the same for you."
But she doesn't remember me. He didn't voice it. Beckman didn't need to hear him whine about his lost love. Besides, someone had to go and he was probably better suited than Roan. He bit his lips and gave a single slow nod.
Beckman removed her glasses, leaned into her camera, and lowered her voice to a more sympathetic tone. "I'll make it an order if I have to. Memories and personal feelings aside, you're the Intersect and she damn well better respect that."
Chuck managed a weak smile and an even weaker, "Thank you, General." Forcing Sarah to protect him was a bit humiliating for both of them. He no longer needed a bodyguard like he did with the Intersect 1.0. What he needed was someone to keep his emotions level, to keep him from freaking out and spiraling. He wasn't so sure Sarah in her present condition could fulfill that role, but he wasn't going to disparage her in front of the general. If Sarah didn't like it, she would have to resign the CIA, and wasn't that what the old Sarah wanted anyway?
Beckman straightened into her dignified general pose. "I will consider this a one-time exception to your commitment to be a consultant for us."
Chuck nodded while Morgan did a restrained under-the-table fist pump. "One last mish—" Morgan clapped his own hand over his mouth and shook his head, then removed his hand to speak again. "I didn't say it. I was gonna say it, but I didn't say it."
Beckman looked at him like he was crazy, which, of course, wasn't too far off.
"You know, the jinx thing. Never say one last huh-huh." He rolled his eyes upward as if that would make it clear.
Beckman gave him her patented I-am-losing-patience eyebrow.
Catching on quick, the bearded one changed the subject. "Can I quarterback?"
The general came close to a smile as she nodded. "Yes, Mr. Grimes. I believe we've found your niche. You may consider this your permanent position as long as any part of Team Bartowski is active."
His fist pump was above the table this time. "Yessss."
"I'm glad I made someone happy tonight. We'll talk later, team. Good night." Beckman hit disconnect and the screen went black.
Morgan jumped up from his seat, threw his hands in the air, and whooped like he'd just beat the all-time high score in his favorite video game. Then he saw that his best friend wasn't quite as excited. "You and Sarah, off on a mission together. Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Under threat of agricultural Armageddon? Not exactly. I want her to choose to be with me."
Morgan patted him on the back. "Hey, it'll happen. Give her time to remember you."
Movement on one of the security cams caught Chuck's eye. It was nearly closing time at the Buy More. No customers had been in the store for at least an hour. But Ellie knew exactly which camera to wave at. She was in the home theater room, about to open the trap door entrance to Castle.
"Looks like we got company," Chuck said.